Merchandising San Francisco from Alcatraz to Chinatown

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The highlight of Alcatraz might have been the boat ride if it weren’t as cold as Philadelphia in San Francisco. Oh, I don’t mean to be sour. Really, the video of interviews of Native Americans who occupied the place was wonderful and passionate. But otherwise, I’d rather be at Eastern State Penitentiary, with its philosophical underpinnings as a system of incarceration and social thinking.

Prison mugs for sale at the Alcatraz giftee shoppe.
Prison mugs for sale at the Alcatraz giftee shoppe.


Best of all I liked the merch in the gift shop–the metal prison mugs and mess trays are outstanding. And the baseballs seemed just crazy! But no crazier than baseballs imprinted with Van Gogh!

Alcatraz mess trays also for sale--at least someone's fantasy of prison trays.
Alcatraz mess trays also for sale–at least someone’s fantasy of prison trays.

Then there’s Chinatown, nothing but merchandise, and why not? I couldn’t resist the stores, which were filled with stuff crass and lovely. Here are my two favorite crass pix (I could hardly believe my eyes, but it turns out these sorts of giant house baubles are in lots of stores there, so they must sell to someone):

Dolphin sculpture as a come-on for a shop along Grant Ave.
Dolphin sculpture as a come-on for a shop along Grant Ave.
Chandeliers inside the shop, named Michael's. The only way to buy these things is with some post-modern irony, perhaps.
Chandeliers inside the shop, named Michael’s. The only way to buy these things is with some post-modern irony, perhaps.

Best was the Chinese food–at a fabulous 1920s restaurant, the Far East Cafe, decorated before the International Chinese Restaurant Cartel could impose its red booths and traditional formica-topped tables. The restaurant still had the original wooden private rooms, fabulous Chinese-style chandeliers that must have been 5 feet high (hanging from ultra-high ceilings), and oil paintings of Chinese scenes. You can see a tassel from a chandelier in front of the oil painting above the private booths.

Murray at the Far East Cafe, which wins a prize for decor. Fabulous, with the original fixtures, minus about half the original private wooden booths.
Murray at the Far East Cafe, which wins a prize for decor. Fabulous, with the original fixtures, minus about half the original private wooden booths.

The best piece of merch I got though came from Minna and cost us (and her) nothing–a pin-on promotional button from Stella Artois. It said I [heart] Stella. Now Stella has it!

Ben and hang gliders along the Pacific Coast. We decided the winds must have been uncooperative, because no one was gliding, and the gliders were lined up waiting.
Ben and hang gliders along the Pacific Coast. The winds must have been uncooperative, because no one was gliding, and the gliders were lined up waiting.

For all the tourist sell, San Francisco natural beauty stole our hearts. We somehow didn’t realize how much a part of the city the wild ocean was. Ben took us for a ride along the coast on a day when the ocean was a little rough and pearly silver, reflecting the clouds and the fog. It was hard to tell where the ocean ended and the sky began.

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